On Monday, the Orlando Magic fired head coach Stan Van Gundy (259-135 in five seasons) and parted ways with general manager Otis Smith, who spent the better part of six years in the front office.
Apparently back-to-back first-round exits in the playoffs were the straws that broke the camel’s back as Magic CEO Alex Martins decided that “it’s time for new leadership and new voices.”
Is the new leadership and voice that Martins is referring to that of All-Star center Dwight Howard, who has been the hub of controversy all season long after requesting a trade?
Even in early April, Van Gundy asserted that team officials had made him aware that Howard requested that he be fired as a condition for Howard to sign a long-term deal to stay in Orlando. Although Howard never publicly stated as such, there seems to be a bit of truth to that report with what has since transpired.
The Magic have been on the cusp in the Eastern Conference for quite some time, so on the surface the two moves seem reasonable. However, a deep playoff run certainly couldn’t have been expected this postseason with Howard not in the lineup, having missed the end of the regular season and the first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
The entire Magic roster has been constructed around Howard for the better part of a decade. To be the only constant on a team that has never made it over the hump should place much of the culpability back on the player. But Howard seems to always rise from the fracas unscathed.
LeBron James gets publicly scolded for “The Decision” and having not achieved the ultimate team glory of winning an NBA Championship. But why should one be openly scrutinized for desiring to work for a different employer in order to capture the one thing that critics still blast him for not having?
What has taken place in Orlando at the hands of Howard is far more classless than LeBron sitting down with Jim Gray to announce that he was “taking his talents to South Beach."
Certainly the haters would be less odious had LeBron’s free-agent courtship been less about the glamour and more heartfelt. But he has since rebuffed and maintained that his choice in leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers was strictly business and that he didn’t mean for it to come off the way that it did—and his track record should make the public more inclined toward believing him.
There is no covering up for Howard after what has ensued in Orlando, but does anyone in the organization even care?
Magic ownership is well aware that a head coach and general manager play a nominal role in the amount of money that fans put into their pockets. But they realize that Howard plays an enormous part in the financial solidity of the franchise.
When one player has control over who the coach is, the situation becomes shaky at best. The fact that ownership is playing into Howard’s hand indicates that a winning brand of basketball is far from the primary agenda of the organization.
That type of leadership will affect every potential decision made to try to rebuild the franchise into the contender that it thought it had with Howard leading the way this entire time.
As potential head coaching and managerial candidates line themselves up for the Magic openings, don’t you imagine that in the back of their minds they are thinking they had better send Howard a care package pronto so that they can start off on the right foot?
Do you think that free-agent players are chomping at the bit to go to battle on a nightly basis with someone that they know has as much pull in them being on the team as their own performance or management does?
The decision to part ways with Van Gundy and Smith has tainted the entire culture surrounding the Magic.
If the Magic ownership’s primary focus is to line their pockets with riches, they made the right move. If it is to continue to discover the precise method in bringing Orlando an NBA championship, Howard should have been the one given the one-finger salute out the door.